The CatholicMatch Institute is joined by a new contributor! Arleen Spenceley is a Catholic blogger, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and author of an upcoming book about chastity. The CatholicMatch Institute spoke to her about her upcoming book, Chastity is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin, practical dating and chastity advice, and what she will be writing about for the institute.
You have a new book coming out! What is it about?
The book, called Chastity is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin, is about practicing chastity—which requires us to abstain from sex outside of marriage—in a culture that says we shouldn’t. It is unusual to adopt a lifestyle counter to the way of life encouraged by the culture that surrounds us. It’s so unusual I’ve even had to ask myself this question: Why am I ok with making choices that most of the people I meet never would? Chastity is For Lovers answers that question.
Where did you get the idea for your book?
I had been blogging for years before I pitched the idea for the book to Ave Maria Press. I got the idea from my blog, where without fail, posts about relationships (especially the ones that covered chastity or sex) drew more traffic and inspired more conversation than any other posts. My target audience has always been adults; how into this discussion the adults who frequent my blog are led to a realization: adults want and need to talk about sex (and saving sex!) too.
For too long, discussion of chastity has been relegated to youth groups. When high school ends, so does the conversation. That’s a problem, because adults who want to save sex (or sex from now on) for marriage don’t know it’s possible if no adult admits to doing it. It’s a problem because adults exist who haven’t had sex, and who feel alone or ashamed. My hope for the book is that it provides comfort to people who have felt alone in the choice to be chaste and hope to people who could use a new way to approach love and sex.
You wrote about this topic originally for the Tampa Bay Times, why did you decide to write the article and what was the reaction?
I wrote two essays on sex for the Tampa Bay Times. The first essay was inspired by the demise of a dating relationship. That particular relationship was with a guy who didn’t practice chastity and wasn’t interested in trying. I’d never dated somebody before who didn’t define sex the way I did, but in the experience and the discussions inspired by it, I discovered how normal it is for adults to have sex with the people they date. I also discovered what it’s like for somebody who doesn’t want to save sex to meet somebody who does. My choosing chastity confused the snot out of that guy, and that’s why I decided to write a sex essay for the paper. I wanted to clarify for the public what underlies a person’s choice to be chaste.
It takes a lot of courage to write about chastity in a hook-up culture. How do you joyfully live out your faith as a single Catholic?
I remind myself that what other people think of me is ultimately irrelevant. It has no bearing on my worth; no effect on the value of virtue. I also try to remember that, as nicely stated in the First Principle and Foundation of St. Ignatius’s spiritual exercises, we are created to serve God and nothing matters more than “desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.”
You are one of the new CatholicMatch Institute contributors. What do you plan to write about in your columns?
I intend to write about dating well, practicing chastity, and surviving (and thriving) as single and mingling Catholic adults.
How do you feel about writing for an Institution that is dedicated to helping single Catholics better discern dating and marriage?
I feel great about writing for an institution dedicated to helping single Catholics better discern dating and marriage because I am dedicated to helping single Catholics do that, too.
Find a community. It could be a young adult group or a campus ministry. It could be a group of people you meet at church, or even online. Find people who are single, Catholic, and share your joys and struggles with each other and agree to hold each other accountable. Do fun stuff together, worship together, and study the life of Jesus together (even if you have to do it via Skype!). It is easy to feel alone in this culture, but way harder to feel alone when we make a concerted effort to navigate life alongside people who believe the same stuff we do.
Who are your favorite authors?
Oh, man. My number one is St. John Paul II (Love and Responsibility, which he wrote before he was pope, will change your life). I’ve also really enjoyed reading work by authors Jon Acuff, Don Miller, Rachel Held Evans, Brene Brown, Scott Hahn, and Edward Sri.
What is the best dating advice you’ve ever received?
“It isn’t your job to entertain your significant other.” Earlier in my 20s, I worried in relationships that an off-day—one in which I was boring, or in a bad mood, or otherwise not awesome—meant my significant other would lose interest. But it truly isn’t your job to entertain your significant other, or even to make him or her happy. If it were, affection and commitment in relationships would need to be dependent on what benefit you get out of the relationship, which is not a sustainable foundation. The only sustainable foundation is “virtuous friendship,” which, according to Edward Sri, is a couple’s pursuit of a common goal.
What is your impression of online dating?
I swivel between “online dating is a supplement” and “online dating is a necessity.” Practicing Catholics who want to meet and marry practicing Catholics know the struggle because practicing Catholics are few and far between. But they do exist, and if they aren’t easily accessed offline, online can be a good place to meet them.
What do you love about the Catholic faith?
So many things! But if I have to sum it up, I love that no matter where I am in the entire world, I can walk into a Catholic church and feel at home.